Maria Fire broke out minutes after utility company re-energized high-voltage power line
Southern California Edison said it re-energized a 16,000-volt power line minutes before the Maria Fire erupted nearby last week and quickly swelled to 14 square miles.
The company said in a statement that it had no information about the actual cause of the fire, which broke out Thursday west of Los Angeles, but noted the site is within its service territory.
SCE said it had re-energized the line 13 minutes before the blaze erupted on a nearby hillside. It added that it would “cooperate with the appropriate investigative agencies if asked to do so.”
The 14.6 square mile Maria Fire in Ventura county, which was 20% contained on Saturday, threatened about 1,800 homes and other buildings, and prompted evacuation orders for nearly 11,000 people.
The fire burned down the sides of a mountain bordered by agricultural land, the small city of Santa Paula and other communities. Airplanes tried to flank it with long drops of retardant while helicopters dropped loads of water.
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Eastern Ventura, Camarillo, Somis and Santa Paula were at risk, Ventura County fire officials said.
Forecasters have extended red flag warnings for gusts and very low humidity levels to 6 p.m. PDT Saturday for valleys and interior mountains of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, citing the withering conditions.
“As recent fire activity has shown, this remains a dangerous environment for fire growth, even with weaker winds than earlier this week,” the National Weather Service said.
The Maria Fire broke out as the most fierce Santa Ana winds had begun to die down on Thursday.
“It has been an uphill battle ever since,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. “We are finding that the winds are starting to change and that presents its own challenges all by itself.”
Power shutoffs were imposed in California after electrical equipment from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was blamed for several devastation fires in recent years.
PG&E, the state’s largest utility, initiated four rounds of widespread pre-emptive shut-offs in Northern California last month to prevent wildfires.
Critical factors for a shutdown are forecasts of particularly high winds and low humidity. A major concern is that falling trees and limbs hitting power lines will trigger sparks in especially dry vegetation.
PG&E said last month that a broken jumper wire was found on a transmission tower near where the raging Kincade Fire broke out in northern California’s Sonoma county.
The company said the fire started seven minutes after it registered an outage at the tower.
The Kincade fire, which has destroyed more than 120 squares miles, was only 70% contained as of Saturday.
CAL FIRE says that the cause of the fire is “under investigation.”
Contributing: Associated Press